Why Disinfection Is Essential for Healthy Well Water

Yes, private wells are essentially closed systems that should prevent outside contaminants from entering the water supply. But there are challenges to this system every day. Any one of a number of protections can fail, enabling bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites or other microorganisms to reach your water supply. 

When these microorganisms enter your water, they then begin to multiply and create biofilms or colonies. When there are enough of them, they can create adverse reactions or even illnesses among the members of the household who drink the water. 

Preventing these health problems requires regular maintenance of your private water well. It’s actually fairly simple to do so, but it must be done regularly.

Key Points Related to Private Well Disinfection

Remember that keeping your well disinfected is as important as changing the oil in your car. It is something that should be done routinely, even if the well seems to be in good condition.

Here are some of the most important times to disinfect your well.

  1. Too many bacteria: You should disinfect your well whenever a water test shows that it has too many bacteria. Most commonly, well owners test for coliform or E. coli bacteria. While these may not themselves be harmful, they indicate that contamination of the well has occurred and that the well needs to be disinfected.
  2. Visible signs of bacterial growth: Another time to test and disinfect is any time you see signs of bacterial growth in your water, such as:
  • Bad taste or smell, especially rotten egg smell
  • Discoloration of laundry, particularly a light orange tint to light-colored clothing
  • Reduction of water flow from indoor pipes which can occur from an accumulation of iron bacteria in the system
  • Slime collecting anywhere that water sits for a while, such as inside the toilet tank.
  1. Infiltration by surface water: After a flood or damage to the well cap or above-ground casing that could have let in rain or surface water, there is a good chance the water has been contaminated. 
  2. Visible signs of bug or animal infestation: Pull the well cap and look inside. If there are bugs, cobwebs, nests or other signs of animal infestation, it’s definitely time to disinfect. 

Test Your Well Water Annually

The surest way to know if you need to disinfect your well is to test your water. This should be done annually or whenever you see signs of any problems with your water. Testing for bacteria and fungi is a good start, but nitrates and nitrites are another type of common contaminant it’s good to look for. 

Nitrates and nitrites are a sign that plant matter or animal contamination has occurred. That can be the start of heavy bacterial or fungal growth. Bacteria levels should always be low to prevent digestive upsets in people and animals. The only acceptable level of fungi in your well water is zero. 

Also testing for hardness, silica, dissolved solids and pH and similar characteristics will tell you if you could have a problem with an accumulation of minerals in your pipes that gradually reduces water flow. 

Important Tips on Testing and Disinfection

  • Once you have test results that show a need for disinfection, use calcium hypochlorite instead of chlorine bleach. Household bleach is heavier than water, therefore pockets of bleach can get trapped in your plumbing system. (You can obtain calcium hypochlorite from ETR Laboratories.)
  • After you disinfect your well, do another test to verify that there is no further contamination. If the second test shows a positive result for bacteria or other microorganisms, there is probably an unseen source of contamination that needs to be eliminated. That might require repair of the casing, well cap or other component of your water system.
  • During your annual test, it’s important to test for additional contaminants because there can always be new sources of contamination. An industry nearby (up to a mile away) could have released toxins into the water supply or onto soil. A septic tank or underground gas tank could have started leaking. Or a neighbor could have hydrofracked their well (injected water at very high pressure) to increase their water supply, which could force toxins through the bedrock and into your well.

When you have accurate test results for your water, you’ll know what action you need to take. If that test indicates a need for disinfection, call ETR Laboratories. We’ll send you our FDA-approved disinfection kit, complete with post-disinfection bacteria test. Call us at (800) 344-9977